It was years ago, so many that no one can remember exactly how many, when Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim met. Boeheim was a participant in the Duke Childrens Classic celebrity golf tournament. Krzyzewski was there, too, as an observer (hes never been a golfer he was a tennis guy back then).
In 1990, Krzyzewski picked Boeheim and a mutual friend, P. J. Carlesimo, as his assistants for the World Championships and Goodwill Games with USA Basketball. Fifteen years later, when Krzyzewski was named the head coach of the USA national team, he didnt hesitate to bring Boeheim whom he calls his best friend in basketball back on board. Chris Collins, the former Duke assistant and current Northwestern head coach, remembers Boeheims inclusion as a no-brainer, the one spot on staff that was filled instantly.
It was a real quick decision, said Jerry Colangelo, the managing director for USA Basketball who chose Krzyzewski to lead the national team. Without hesitancy, Coach K said, I want Jimmy Boeheim there next to me as my guy. That was one of the quickest, easiest decisions that we had to make.
Two Olympic golds later with the pursuit of a third about to get underway Krzyzewski, 66, and Boeheim, 69, will meet Saturday on opposite sidelines, with No. 17 Duke (17-4, 6-2 ACC) traveling to No. 2 Syracuse (20-0, 7-0) for the two storied programs first meeting as conference rivals. Both coaches have become synonymous with the basketball teams at their schools this is Krzyzewskis 34th season at Duke. Boeheim has led his alma mater for the past 38 seasons.
The word rivals is appropriate, especially from the Syracuse perspective the campus bookstore began printing Beat Duke T-shirts in November. During the win over North Carolina earlier this month, fans in the Carrier Dome started chanting We want Duke! And some students have been camping out in the freezing cold for two weeks in the tent city dubbed Boeheimburg, all in the name of getting the best seats Saturday. Theyll make up part of the expected 35,446 in attendance, which will set an NCAA record for on-campus attendance of a college basketball game.
The significance of the game there are 1,914 wins between the coaches isnt lost on either. Its an important milestone in the development of the revamped, 15-team ACC.
That will be one of those instant rivalries. Were going to see much more than Duke and Carolina showcased in this league, with all these new additions, Krzyzewski said in the preseason. Its a great time for that. In some way, I think that may have held the league back, or held the people that think about basketball and our league back, because you had this golden goose of Duke and Carolina, and now we dont have just one goose, man. Weve got a lot of stuff.
Krzyzewski has so much respect for Boeheim that, for years, whenever Duke would switch into a zone defense (those few times a season), he would call out Orange, a name inspired by Boeheims trademark 2-3 zone defense at Syracuse. Orange was the call USA Basketball used for its zone defense, too, and on one occasion the only time Boeheim specifically suggested it the zone helped seal a win.
It was 2010, and Team USA was playing an exhibition game versus Spain, in Madrid, as a warm-up for the 2010 FIBA World Championship. Team USA had a double-digit lead, but Spain kept finding driving lanes and took the lead in the final minute before Derrick Rose put the Americans up 86-85 with 16.9 seconds remaining. Spain had the ball for the last shot. Timeout was called.
We were halfway through the timeout and I said to Mike, I had his ear for a second, and I said, the zone might work here, Boeheim said. Ill tell you, one thing people dont know about Coach Krzyzewski is hes very open to players suggestions and coaches suggestions. If you make a suggestion, like practice is too long, hell adjust it. If you say, we should put this guy in the game, he will do that. Hes not, like, Im making all the decisions here, hes not that kind of coach.
So anyway, I said I think this might be something that works, and he said, you know, lets go with that.
The move worked. International rules prevent a team from calling timeout once the ball is in play, so Spain was caught off-guard by the zone and couldnt get a good shot off, with Kevin Durant blocking their two last attempts.
We havent used it since, Boeheim said. I guess were saving that for a big moment somewhere down the road.
Collins said the staff had a good laugh after the game the diehard man-to-man believer, Krzyzewski, switching to a zone to ensure a win. Then it came time for Boeheim to laugh he wasnt a big fan of Krzyzewskis habit of bringing his staff together to watch film immediately after a games end (these sessions routinely go long into the night after Duke games).
Coach Boeheim would always yell at Wojo (Duke assistant Steve Wojciechowski) and I and tell us we had to stay with Coach because he wasnt going to watch the film, Collins said, with a laugh. He said he didnt work for Coach K, so we were the ones that were going to have to stay there and watch with him.
According to Colangelo, both Krzyzewski and Boeheim can be funnier than you can imagine, when they let their hair down just a bit. Collins also mentioned Boeheims humor and his eye for good Italian restaurants in every city they visited.
They come across differently, said Dick Vitale, who has worked around them throughout his 35 years calling basketball games for ESPN. You look at Mike, and you see the unbelievable intensity and incredible passion. I always tease him, Mike, youve won a few games in your time. The bottom line is you dont have to prove anything. But thats what makes him special. Hes all about the moment.
When you go to Jimmy, Jimmy basically gives you that, well, were not that good, were struggling, were not playing as well as we should, and I look at him and say, Jim, excuse me, you guys are 20-0.
For all their differences in style and personality, the traits they share offer insight to their success.
Theyre both very fiery and very competitive, Collins said. You dont win to the level that those guys have won without being passionate and fiery about what youre doing. You just dont.
Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley